Tag Archives: technology

New software arouses legislator concerns

Some Democrats are nervous about Republican legislative leaders’ move to implement a software system for lawmakers’ constituent communications and casework, fearing it could compromise sensitive information and possibly even be used against them politically.

Further from the Times-Free Press:
That prompted a Sept. 22 email from Scott Gilmer, House Speaker Beth Harwell’s chief of staff, assuring members the software system is similar to that used by the governor’s office, state departments and the U.S. Congress to manage constituent issues and calls.

“To clarify,” Gilmer wrote, “this is only a tool to be utilized at your discretion. There is no requirement for you or legislative staff to utilize it.”

He noted that “at the end of your service in the General Assembly, the information will not be retained unless there are records you wish to forward to your successor.”

Rep. JoAnne Favors, D-Chattanooga, said she doesn’t expect to use the system.

“I’ve acquired a huge database through the years and I can contact people almost instantly, said Favors, a retired nurse who often fields requests from constituents on health issues.

“I use my own iPad because I feel I can write anything I want to and maintain confidentiality,” she said.

Lawmakers often are asked for help in sensitive areas, from those needing to cut bureaucratic red tape to problems with business regulations or other issues. They maintain their own lists of constituent contacts, often including political supporters. The lists are used for newsletters, holiday card mailings, email blasts and more.

In sum, it’s prized information and the thought of anyone, regardless of party, possibly obtaining access — let alone a successful election challenger — gives some the jitters.

“I’m not inclined to send all my information anywhere unless I know for sure what it’s for and who’s using it and why,” said Rep. Sherry Jones, D-Nashville.

…In her Aug. 24 email to House and Senate staffers, Connie Ridley, director of legislative administration, said the software integrates with the Outlook email program, allowing staff to track and respond to constituents’ views and needs.

“We believe it will take a large part of the burden of the day-to-day operations of the Members’ offices off of the staff and help you complete routine tasks quicker and easier,” Ridley added.

Over on the Senate side, there appears to be less apprehension… Asked whether Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey is requiring senators and their staffs to use the system, Ramsey spokesman Adam Kleinheider said, “We have every reason to expect that all employees will use the new software.”

…A former Republican House member, (House Clerk Joe) McCord said he recalls when lawmakers were first given email and iPads “and everyone thought [then-Democratic Speaker] Jimmy Naifeh was going to read their email.” Eventually, lawmakers generally accepted both.

TN health care exchange computers rated ‘high risk’

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee was among the more than two-thirds of states rated as “high risk” for security problems related to its computers tapping into the federal health insurance exchange system.

Federal cybersecurity experts worried in advance of the Oct. 1 deadline for new insurance exchanges that state computer systems could become a backdoor for hackers and identity thieves. But the Obama administration says the issues have been resolved or addressed, and no successful cyberattacks have occurred.

The federal data hub is used to check Social Security, Internal Revenue Service and Homeland Security records to verify key personal information for determining coverage eligibility under the Affordable Care Act.

“Tennessee is taking all necessary safeguards to protect applicant and enrollee data,” Kelly Gunderson, a spokeswoman for TennCare, said in an email.

Gunderson said that “while there may have been a possible concern” raised in November about needing an outside security assessment, the state was ultimately granted access to the federal system.

Still, Tennessee is the only state of the 46 with authority to connect to the federal hub that is operating under a 60-day access agreement. The others operate under three-year arrangements.

The state is expected to transition to a three-year agreement once a new eligibility and enrollment system goes live, according to Jim Esquea, an assistant secretary at HHS.

State Tech Workers Must Re-apply for Their Jobs

Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration is forcing 1,600 information technology workers across state government to re-apply for their jobs in an effort to screen out those who can’t master the skills of a rapidly changing field, reports The Tennessean.
The state employees association said IT workers are nervous. But the state’s chief information officer said most of them don’t need to worry.
“This is really not about getting rid of people,” Mark Bengel said Wednesday. “It’s about making sure that we do have the skills and we have the ability to develop and retain staff in the future.”
He said Science Applications International Corp., a consulting firm, has started looking at 23 state agencies’ IT operations and analyzing the gap between the skills employees have and the ones they need. Most of its recommendations won’t take effect until the 2014-15 budget year.
“Technology is moving so fast that skills are obsolete in the blink of an eye,” Bengel said.
The changes come in the wake of several large-scale computer system problems that have hindered operations in various state offices, including the Department of Children’s Services, the Department of Labor and Workforce Development, and the Department of Human Services. The state’s “Project Edison” system, launched in 2008 to bring outdated payroll, accounting and vendor tracking systems into a single, integrated system, was rife with glitches for a couple of years.
Haslam told The Tennessean last fall that some computer systems were “in the ditch.” In part due to those difficulties, the governor has established a Business Solutions Delivery office to centralize IT expertise as the state embarks on contracting for future projects.
Bengel said the IT challenges at some of the departments “certainly contributed” to the restructuring decision.

Democrats Jobs Plan Includes $15M for Tech Centers

Tennessee Democrats are calling for $15 million in funding for technology centers that train workers — as well as a raft of other legislation — to spur job creation in the state after traveling Tennessee in recent days, reports the Nashville Business Journal.
A lineup of top Democratic legislators gathered on the Rolling Mill Hill property in Nashville overlooking the city’s downtown to discuss their legislation with media Thursday. Their point: State government must play an active role in helping the private sector create jobs, to meet the Tennessee’s specific needs and keep it competitive across the country.
In an interview, House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley invoked Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s desire to help the private sector.
“He specifically said to talk to people that are putting their own capital at risk,” Fitzhugh said. “And we did that.”
Democrats are reinvigorating their argument for government spurring job creation forward after talking with business owners and residents around the state. Republicans have said this will mainly come by getting out of the way — an idea Democrats say can help, but that they argue doesn’t do justice to the role government plays in making projects happen.

See also Chas Sisk and Sean Braisted
The news release is below.

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